Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

James Whitehead

James Whitehead : Photograph of James in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference:  MR4/17/288

Photograph of James in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/17/288

James Whitehead : (L to R) Military Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) Military Medal; Allied Victory Medal

James was born on the 5th September 1896 in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. We don't know anything about his family or early life.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and James joined the Army in around January 1915. He enlisted in the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based in Ashton. He was given the service number 3283.

The 9th Battalion had been sent to Egypt on the 10th September 1914. New recruits like James were formed into a 'second line' for the battalion that could be used to replace casualties.

The renamed 1/9th Battalion took part in the invasion of Gallipoli and landed on the 6th May 1915. They were involved in a great deal of hard fighting over the next few months, and took many casualties. James and other soldiers were sent to help bring them up to strength. He was one of around 80 members of the battalion who arrived in Gallipoli on the 22nd October.

We don't know much about James' time in Gallipoli. The worst of the fighting was over by the time he arrived, but the soldiers still had to endure shelling and snipers that caused a steady stream of casualties. They were also vulnerable to disease. Towards the end of the year the weather worsened, becoming cold and wet. Many soldiers were taken ill because of the conditions. The 1/9th Battalion was evacuated to Egypt on the 28th December 1915.

In Egypt the 1/9th Battalion helped to guard the Suez Canal against a Turkish attack. They spent a lot of time living in the desert building defensive positions. The Canal was threatened by the Turks until August, when British victories forced them to retreat into the Sinai. The 1/9th Battalion left Egypt in early March 1917 for the Western Front in France.

At around this time soldiers serving in units of the Territorial Force were given new service numbers. The 9th Battalion was allowed to give its soldiers numbers between 350001 and 375000. James' new number was 351450.

The 1/9th Battalion served at Ephey when they arrived in France. During August they moved north to the area around Ypres in Belgium (now Ieper). At the end of September they moved again, and began patrolling the North Sea coast at Nieuport (now Nieuwpoort). They returned to France in December and were stationed at Bethune.

In February 1918 the 1/9th Battalion was disbanded. This was because of a reorganisation of the Army that aimed to have more soldiers in fewer units, rather than fewer soldiers in more units. The men of the 1/9th were sent to other battalions of the Manchester Regiment. James joined the 1/5th Battalion. These two units had been serving together throughout the war.

During March and April 1918 James and the 1/5th Battalion helped to defeat the German Spring Offensive. The attacks began on the 21st March, while the battalion was in the rear, but they were quickly organised and by the evening of the 24th they were on the front line.

The Battalion fought off German attacks as they retreated. They fought hard for the next 2 weeks as they tried to slow the German attack. They returned to the front during April and served there until early May.

The German offensive was defeated by the end of May, and on the 8th August the Allies began one of their own. This was extremely successful and drove the Germans back. It continued until the end of the war on the 11th November.

During this fighting James carried out an act of great bravery. He was awarded the Military Medal for it in the London Gazette of the 14th May 1919. This is his citation:

At Havrincourt on 27 September 1918. This man, seeing that the advance was held up by an enemy machine gun, acting entirely on his own initiative, he pushed forward with his Lewis Gun and succeeded in silencing the gun and took the gun crew prisoners.

By this time James had left the Army. He was disembodied on the 19th March 1919 and returned to Ashton. He would live there for the rest of his life.

Between April and June 1921 James married Ruth Palmer. They had 3 daughters; Joan between October and December 1922, Marjorie between April and June 1925 and Doreen between October and December 1927.

We don't know what work James did throughout his life. Ruth died in either 1973 or 1978.

At the end of his life James lived at 5 Atlas Street in Ashton. He died suddenly in hospital on the 23rd February 1980. He was 83 years old.

James was a 'dearly beloved Husband...dearly loved Father...dear Father-in-law, devoted Grandad and Great-Grandad'. His funeral was held at Dukinfield Crematorium on the 28th.

As well as his Military Medal and Allied Victory Medal, James was also awarded the 1914-15 Star and the British War Medal for his Army service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council